Every Teardrop is a Waterfall (of viruses)

In the midst of an overnight ICU shift, my right eye started to water. It then began to burn and itch. Now, it's red. I have conjunctivitis (pink eye). But, I didn't rush to start antibiotic eye drops because this condition is almost certainly viral and will run its miserable course.


The virus that is a major player in this realm is the awesomely-shaped adenovirus, a ubiqutious pathogen that causes colds and other conditions. However, when a patient with symptoms like mine shows up at an urgent care center or emergency department, invariably a prescription for some sort of antimicrobial drops is obtained. Such drops really do nothing for the condition except waste money and expose individuals to unnecessary antimicrobials. It's not that physicians don't know that most conjunctivitis is viral in nature, they are often just responding to the patient's expectation of receiving an antibiotic.

There is a point-of-care test for adenovirus that is able to detect the presence of the virus in tears. However, I don't know of any place that uses it routinely. This type of test--like all viral tests--has the potential to decrease the prescription of unnecessary antibiotics because physicians, armed with a positive viral test result, are much more able to convince patients of the viral nature of their condition. The economics of the test may be behind its slow uptake outside of ophthalmologists' offices.

After all that, it would be fitting if my own conjunctivitis turned out to be bacterial.